papacy: In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

After the Counter Reformation, the papacy continued to be plagued by another problem, one that reform had (of necessity) left untouched. This was the position in the church of the rulers of largely Roman Catholic states. Once one of these Catholic princes, whether devout or notoriously immoral, was sure of his power, he determined to include the church within it (e.g., insisting on the deciding voice in selecting the clergy). The kings of Spain even conducted their own Inquisition. It was accepted that Catholic rulers should hold a veto in papal elections.

By the 18th cent. every Catholic prince was at odds with the papacy. Spain had the longest record of this sort, lasting into the 20th cent. In France the triumphant Bourbons developed Gallicanism as a theory to justify their ecclesiastical pretensions; Louis XIV was its chief proponent, but the revolutionists of 1790 used it (in the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, banned by Pius VI), and so did Napoleon I as soon as he had signed the Concordat of 1801. Most extreme, and least enduring, were the schemes of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.

In the 18th cent. the papacy seemed doomed; its weakness became a spectacle when Clement XIV was forced into suppressing the Jesuits, the only group in the church consistently loyal to the pope. Early in the 19th cent., when Pius VII tried to protect the sanctity of the Holy See, Napoleon had him ignominiously imprisoned. After the fall of Napoleon, with the increasing decline of the old absolutist states, the papacy imperceptibly gained. Papal opposition to the reunification of Italy deepened the suspicious dislike of most liberals for the papacy.

The loss (1870) of the Papal States proved in the end a blessing for the papacy, although it took 60 years to solve the Roman Question—the problem of assuring the pope nonnational status in a nationally organized world (see Lateran Treaty). The First Vatican Council enunciated the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870. In the modern world, the popes no longer faced trouble with Catholic princes but did engage in struggles with secular states over anticlerical or specifically anti-Catholic legislation (e.g., Otto von Bismarck's Kulturkampf in Germany and the anticlericalism in France, Portugal, and Mexico) or overt attacks on all religion.

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